For the small price of a scenic five-hour bus ride from Montreal to Saguenay in mid-March, you can find yourself at the Festival Regard, one of the best short film festivals in the world. Venues that seat 800+ people are packed to watch short films of all types. The programming team, assembling a combination of genres, languages and media, paints a portrait of short-form cinema as liberating and transgressive. In stark contrast with the endless corporate products dished out at cineplexes, the short film allows for new ideas and innovative approaches.
The festival’s competitive program, broken up into nine competitive slots ranging from about 90 minutes to two hours, is supplemented by thematic programs and a thriving short film market. This year, a dome was set up just outside of the festival headquarters at Hotel Chicoutimi with events, screenings and VR headsets. The festival is not just growing to accommodate a greater selection of guests but to accommodate new ideas about cinema itself.
With films from all over the world made in a variety of styles, there are few festivals that are able to showcase such boundary-pushing narrative cinema. It is especially humbling that they are able to feature so many local talents, serving their part in bringing attention to Quebec cinema around the world. As an Oscar-qualifying film festival, winning a top prize here can mean being shortlisted for an Academy Award next year.
In honour of the 23rd edition of Regard, we’ve put together a list of some of the festival highlights —movies to look out for at other festivals, online and maybe at next year’s Oscars. It’s worth noting that the strength of the programming means that this list leaves off a lot of really fantastic shorts. Some honourable mentions: Nursery Rhymes (Tom Noakes), Je sors acheter des cigarettes (Osman Cerfon) and La coupure (Chloé Cinq-Mars).
Le prince de val-bé (Jean-François Leblanc)
Blending documentary aesthetics with more traditional narrative filmmaking, Le prince de val-bé is about a former ATV champion returning to his home town in Val-Bélair after a six-year prison stint. With keen humour and a strong sense of family dynamics, the film is about trying to escape from destiny. What is it like when it seems as though you’re only good at one thing in this world?
Acadiana (Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin)
With full-on apocalyptic vibes, Acadiana is a documentary about the 2017 crawfish festival in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. With an eerie soundtrack, unusual framing and general atmosphere of unease, the film transcends non-fiction as it blurs the line between past and present. A film about traditions with Acadian roots lost to time, Acadiana absorbs a deep melancholy in a world that is continually changing and shifting away from meaningful engagement with culture. Dark, humbling and eerily beautiful.
Stilles Land Guttes Land (Johannes Bachmann)
This Swiss film feels like a punch to the stomach as it portrays a small and quiet town in the midst of a mayoral race. The favoured candidate is a local headmistress and single mother running on an anti-immigrant platform who, in the final stretch of the campaign, has to deal with accusations of abuse leveled against her son. The film is a harrowing micro-portrait of the rise of fascism and the moral cost of valuing strength and fear above all else.
Ma Planète (Valery Carnoy)
For the past decade, Belgium has consistently produced some of the best shorts of the year and Ma Planète, directed by Valery Carnoy continues that legacy. The film portrays the marital strains between Henri, a baker, and his wife. As he becomes a photographer’s muse he struggles with the best way to tell his wife as the pair have been going through the motions. An unusual love story that finds beauty and comedy in the physicality of its characters.
Mon Boy (Sarah Pellerin)
A film about the rituals of masculinity, Mon Boy is a bachelor party seen through the eyes of the groom’s little brother, Louis. A demonstration of excess, self-destruction and solitude, the film portrays a drunken night of festivities with a stark melancholia peppered with clever and ever-escalating humour. The film opens in the back of a pick-up with a camera pulling a 360, drawing us into this chaotic universe, and consistently adopts unusual and gripping audiovisual choices to amplify Louis’s presence as an outsider.
I’m OK (Elizabeth Hobbs)
Based on the true story of the tempestuous love affair between expressionist artist Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler, this animated film is an incredibly sensual homage to the rise of expressionism in art. As the line between reality and dream is broken down, emotions drive the forward momentum of the film. From lust to rage to an encapsulation of both, Hobbs translates through her drawing and montage an explosive sensibility where love and war blur into an inseparable whirlwind of broken bodies and broken hearts.
One After Another (Nicolas Pegon)
An animated documentary about American blues musician Grant Sabin, One After Another draws us into the self-mythologies of the American folkloric tradition. With digressions on string theory and Chinese musical traditions, we are not only brought into the rituals of Sabin’s daily life but his interior world. The black and white illustrated style favours the rhythms of environments, the echoes and flows of spaces and landscapes. It is a compelling film about the nature of art and living an authentic life.
Le champ de maïs (Sandhya Suri)
A soft and sensual film about an Indian labourer wrestling with desire. While all the cornfields in the village have already been harvested, her employer keeps delaying. The film is incredibly quiet, with sparse dialogue. The filmmaking creates a very naturalistic atmosphere only to have emotions take over as the film goes on. Easily one of the most compelling and devastating portraits of love and desire of the past year.
Violeta + Guillermo (Óscar Vincentelli)
More experimental than narrative, Violeta + Guillermo is a look into the future on a couple that has split and reunited. Shot with an intimate low-fi camera, the film features strange subtitles popping up on screen, some of which translate the Spanish dialogue while others rest on silent faces. They discuss drugs and their relationship; growing older weighs heavily. The film captures the stark vulnerability of intimacy in a way that only cinema can.
Une Soeur (Delphine Girard)
One of the best thrillers in recent memory, this Belgian production is about a woman, a car and a phone call. At the screening in the Banque National theatre in Chicoutimi, I sat in the back row and watched the screen, gripped and horrified, while a sold-out theatre of 800 people literally leaned forward to the edge of their seats. The less you know about the film the better, but it is more than just a great thriller — it intersects with ideas of feminism, trauma and resourcefulness in an increasingly dark world. ■